Dance of Death: The Child, c. 1526. Hans Holbein (German, 1497/98-1543). Woodcut; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland 1929.169
Dance of Death is the most celebrated series of woodcuts designed by Holbein. The forty-one blocks were cut by Hans Lützelburger in the years immediately before his death in 1526, though the set was not published until 1538.
Dance of Death originated as a drama in the middle of the 14th century. Following widespread epidemics such as the black plague, these plays took place in a cemetery or churchyard. Actors, dressed in pale costumes painted to resemble skeletons, personified Death and summoned a group of people from all social classes in a dancelike procession. In a period when the life span was short, the purpose of the Dance of Death was to remind the populace to prepare for the Last Judgement.